Apr/May 1999 Salon

Altruism: the Real Evil

by Joe Duarte

The timing of this topic (evil) couldn't be better. We are near the end of the deadliest century in all of human history, and it is time to reflect back on the horror of the twentieth century and its causes. It quickly becomes obvious to the probing student that our century has been a century of ideas and ideologies, and the nature of those ideas is the key to the rivers of blood marring the history books.

Slavery was abolished in America at the close of the Civil War, a few years after England, Russia, and other powers had cleansed themselves of it. But our century saw the rise of a new, intellectually fortified, form of it. A form that did not discriminate on the basis or race, or gender, or faith, but rather a slavery that enslaved the producers, the creators, the thinkers. It was called socialism, and it had many forms. In its fully consistent and pure form it was the communism of the Soviet state and Red China. In its nationalistic and anti-Semitic form it was the National Socialism of Germany and the Fascist labor party of Italy. These four governments murdered more than 50 million human beings. The evil of such an outcome is self-evident to all, regardless of one's particular faith or creed. What is not self-evident is whether the idea of socialism is itself evil or just continually corrupted in the hands of various sundry governments. I submit that socialism is indeed evil by its very nature, and furthermore, that its underlying premises are the root of that evil.

Altruism is the moral code at the base of socialism. The term "altruism" was coined by the nineteenth century advocate of totalitarianism Auguste Comte. Like Kant and various modern philosophers, Comte was a secular advocate of the Christian code of self-sacrifice and selfless service to others. Altruism has such a commanding hold on the field of ethics that it is not simply regarded as one particular code of morality, but as synonymous with morality. Popularly regarded as a code of benevolence and generosity, altruism actually means much more. It views human beings as objects of sacrifice, having no right to exist apart from service to others. The head of the Children's Defense Fund, whose name escapes me, said that selfless service "is the rent we pay for living." I'm sure Hitler and Stalin would nod their heads in agreement. It is this altruist code of selflessness that lies at the core of all totalitarian systems, past, present, and future. I now quote eminent psychologist Nathaniel Branden:

"Instead of the goodwill and mutual respect engendered by recognition of individual rights, altruism as a moral commandment produces only fear and hostility among human beings. It forces them to accept the role of victim or executioner and leaves them no standard of justice, no way to know what they can demand and what they must surrender…..In order for human beings to accept self-sacrifice as a moral ideal, they have to remain ignorant of the concept of rational selfishness. Moralists have commonly declared or implied that our basic alternative is to sacrifice others to ourselves (which they call "egoism") or to sacrifice ourselves to others ("altruism"). This is equivalent to declaring that our basic choice is between being a sadist or a masochist. Just as healthy sex consists of the exchange of pleasure, not pain, so healthy relationships of any kind consist of the exchange of values, not sacrifices."

Altruism, Christian and secular, has dominated our ethical compass since the death of Jesus of Nazareth. It has led to the exploitation of billions of human beings, who not knowing of rational alternatives, meekly subordinated their hopes, dreams, happiness, and very lives to the symbol of the cross or the flag or the "public". The alternative to such a creed of self-immolation, which Dr. Branden is leading to above, is a complete rejection of the dualistic dichotomy of human sacrifice, the expulsion of sacrifice from human relationships. Sacrifice yourself to no one, and sacrifice no one to yourself. Rational selfishness is the creed for those who love life, know what they value, and want to spread their wings. I shouldn't need to qualify selfishness with the word rational, but it makes an important point. Rational selfishness is the only kind of selfishness that can be sustained, the only kind that is selfish. Irrational selfishness is an oxymoron, and anyone who tried to practice it would perish. The rationally selfish person pursues rational values, values that sustain, enhance, better one's life, as opposed to values that harm or destroy one's life. Christianity is antithetical to life by its very nature and robs us of much of what life has to offer. The idea of Original Sin is an abomination. Not only are the sins of the father the sins of the son, but the sins of the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather. Christianity also teaches that reality is but a halfway house to the real deal waiting for us past the pearly gates, so don't worry about your happiness or your welfare, just bow down meekly and serve God and your fellow man. Of course, the same is true of secular forms of altruism, just substitute "society" or "the people" for God. Such a code is inherently exploitative, and is profoundly inhuman and Evil. A note: Rational selfishness, as an ethical philosophy, does not in any way sanction or justify the violation of the rights of others. For reasons I haven't the time to cover here, a truly selfish man would never initiate force or fraud (i.e. commit a crime) against another. And a free society - laissez-faire capitalist, libertarian, Jeffersonian - whatever term you fancy, would essentially bar the initiation of force from human relationships. This is in stark contrast to any variant of socialism or statism, in which the government is able to initiate force on a gargantuan scale against any and all of its citizens (and other nations) in a myriad different ways: the outright theft of coercive taxation (and subsequent immoral redistribution of the loot), fascist business regulations and economic controls, drug prohibitions for consenting adults, gun control laws for consenting (and law abiding) adults, involuntary servitude (both the military kind and now mandatory community service in order to graduate from high school in some states), ad nauseum.

It is no surprise to psychologists like Dr. Branden that the healthiest and most benevolent communities are those made up of selfish, high self-esteem individuals, whereas the most stressed, and sometimes deadly, societies are founded on brutal altruist premises. The challenge we face in the upcoming century is to fling the pendulum of history as far opposite the evils of this century as possible. There are past civilizations that can serve as inspiration, but we need to go back to before Christianity took over the world. The Ancient Greeks are a shining example of what is possible to Man.

Evil was supposed to be the topic of this essay, but I chose to mesh the millennial topic with it, and did it off the top of my head in a rush to meet Doolster's deadline. So in the interest of maintaining some semblance of subject sticking, here's a definition of evil courtesy of novelist David Gulbraa: "the willful,self-conscious destruction or rejection of something that the Evil person actually knows and believes is good, is a value. What Rand called 'hatred of the good because it is good.' I don't think evil can get more evil than that." I accept this definition, and it does have a great deal of utility and is fundamental, unlike Paul Sampson's laundry list of things he doesn't like. A company CEO is evil because he lays off people to save the company? Please. The English language affords a writer a great deal of precision. Evil has a specific meaning, and it cannot possibly describe the hypothetical CEO. Such a CEO is a hero and a great professional, assuming his decisions maximize the long-term profitability of the company he is charged with leading. And regarding General Motors, they don't rule anybody. No one is forced to buy any of their products or deal with them in any way. Commerce is a voluntary activity by its very nature. However, you have no such freedom in dealing with the IRS, or the FDA, or the EPA. There is a profound difference between coercive power, which the government wields, and economic power, which GM wields and which must be earned by creating products or services people will willingly trade for (buy). Sampson doesn't recognize the difference.


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